First Crush of the Season: 2012 Carneros Vineyards

This past Sunday we arrived in the pre-dawn hours for our first crop of the season: 6 tons of Pinot Noir grapes from Carneros. Within the Carneros AVA, these grapes were harvested from two vineyards: Poseidon and Beckstoffer. They were in excellent condition and the sweet aromas made us feel like a part of each vineyard came with them! As a matter of fact, if you closed your eyes on this quiet Sunday morning and felt the warm, bright sun shining on the pallets loaded high with moist grapes, you might have thought you were in the middle of a vineyard.

This delivery was more than just grapes, however. It included our new 5-ton press: we call it the Beast. It will allow us to dramatically increase the amount of grapes we can press in one day. Pressing is actually one of the most time consuming and labor intensive procedures. With our old press, which was quite a bit smaller and not programmable, it would take much longer to press a tank than to fill it with the crush. Below you will find our gallery of photos from the day.


Torbreck Wine Dinner With Winemaker Dave Powell



Last night City Winery hosted the irrepressible Dave Powell, owner and winemaker at Torbreck.

Here is Dave speaking  on the style he’s going for with his Woodcutter’s Semillon and Roussanne/Marsanne/Viognier whites: “I like wines with acidity and cut, not fat and flabby wines. Having just passed my 50th birthday, I can see fat and flab in the mirror anytime I want, I don’t need to see it in my wines.”


The Grapes are Coming! The Grapes are Coming!!

Poseidon Vineyard-Pinot Noir 2012


As I sit here at my keyboard in Soho, our first crop of the season is being hand harvested at the Poseidon Vineyard in Napa. These luscious Pinot Noir grapes have reached the point of optimal ripeness and will soon be on their way to City Winery. The small yellow bins that you see above will be stacked high in a refrigerated tractor trailer and covered with a protective blanket of argon gas to retard oxidation. If all goes as planned we will have them in our hands this Sunday! Six tons are expected and will make for a gentle opening to our fall crush (We have been known to crush as many as twenty tons in one day!).

The Poseidon Vineyard, situated in the Carneros AVA at the northern end of San Francisco Bay, was first planted by the Molnar family in 1973 where the cooling winds from the Pacific temper the summer heat. This maritime climate is ideal for growing Pinot Noir grapes so that they ripen slowly and develop phenolic ripeness at the same time as sugar ripeness. Phenolics are a vast group of organic compounds that are responsible for the color, tannins and complex flavors found in wine. Over the years, the quality of this vineyard has been so remarkable that many of the big names in Napa purchase grapes from it, including Joseph Phelps, Heitz Cellars, Sterling, Pride Mountain, Acacia, and Mumm (The PinotFile, Volume 9, Issue 11, September 11, 2012).

Those of you who read my last post know how busy we have been preparing the winery for the biggest crush of the year. Time is of the essence so that when the grapes arrive they are crushed and placed into fermentation tanks without delay. Today we finished cleaning and reassembling our conveyors and made sure the tanks are fully cleaned and sanitized. As you can see below, these are big tanks (6,500 liters or 1,717 gallons) and require a person to actually get inside to do the job thoroughly.

Sikou Nakate preparing to clean one of the 6500 liter fermenters


Cleaning a stainless steel fermenter in preparation for Sunday’s crush


Work schedules are being drawn up and provisions made to have the fermenting juice, pulp, and skins, aka the must, attended every day from early morning to late at night. For the next two weeks or so, it will be like incubating very precious farm eggs: keeping the temperature just right, making sure there is proper ventilation (or circulation in this case), and constantly monitoring the development. And this is only the beginning of what we hope will be our most phenomenal harvest to date!


City Winery Wins 5 Awards at San Francisco International Wine Competition

San Francisco International Wine Competition

City Winery recently entered various wines to be judged at The San Francisco International Wine Competition, which is one of the most prestigious international wine competitions in the nation. This summer the event was held at the distinguished Hotel Nikko downtown San Francisco, and the panel of judges comprised of the leading wine experts in the country.  The competition, just celebrated it’s 32nd anniversary of judging and awarding wine excellence saw over 4500 different wines from 26 different states and 29 countries.  There were many different categories of competition, including the “Best in Show,” “Portfolio of the Year,” “Winemaker of the Year,” “Winery of the year,” “Best of Varietal,” and the “Best of Nation.”

City Winery is very proud of our winemaking process, where we source our grapes from some of the finest vineyards in America as well as the world renown Catena Vineyards in Agrelo, Medoza Argentina. Because we are a winery in the middle of the city we have great resources to bring the most elegant and bold flavored fruits to our dining tables. We are pleased to announce that our 2010 Kosher Syrah Mendocino was awarded with a gold medal, and 4 others came back with silver and bronze medallions. The silver award winning wines included our 2009 Cabernet Franc, known for being a tannic and powerful wine which has a distinct taste of dark berries, and our 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon. Bronze medals were awarded to our 2010 Pinot Noir and 2009 Syrah. We look forward to another year of continued wine making success, and sharing our love for making fine wine.


Ronnie Spector’s “Beyond the Beehive” (One Girl’s Journey through Rock) – City Winery – September 15, 2012

City Winery thanks Frank Grimaldi for his review of Saturday night’s final Ronnie Spector performance.

Ronnie Spector’s “Beyond the Beehive” is a theatrical memoir of her life. Though, Spector confesses that she’s not an actress and reads her story off of an IPAD between songs, her emotions over the story itself provide all the necessary drama. On Saturday evening, a gentleman introducing the show requested that no videos be recorded. Before leaving the stage, he told the audience that Ronnie Spector was dedicating the evening’s performance to Amy Winehouse who would have been 28 years old on the day before the show (Sept.14th.)

Ronnie Spector is 69 years old but the only real signs of her being an elderly woman was when she sat between songs and kept wiping here face under her mass of hair. Amazingly. Ronnie Spector’s voice is as strong as it was in 1963 and still as strong as her New York accent. As one would suspect, most of Ronnie’s narrative had to do with her ex-husband, Phil Spector and his giving new meaning to the word “Possessive.” There are many sad parts to her story, but like Tina Turner, in the end Ronnie Spector gets her life and her career back.


For legal reasons having to do with Phil Spector, Ronnie explained that she could not perform any of her greatest hits as part of a theatrical performance. But she surprised the audience after the show with what she dubbed as a mini concert. I loved hearing those songs and so did the rest of the sold out audience at City Winery who stood up to reach out to grab Ronnie Spector’s hand. My favorite songs of the evening were “Walking in the Rain” and “Try Some, Buy Some.” But my ultimate favorite song of the early 60’s is still “ Be My Baby” hands down, and when Ronnie Spector sang it – I was in heaven.



Theatrical Performance Set List

1.Woman In Love (With You)
2.You Belong To Me
3.What’d I Say” (Ray Charles Cover)
4.He Did It
5.Do I Love You
6.Walking In The Rain
7.Time Is On My Side (Cover made famous by the Rolling Stones)
8.Don’t Worry Baby (Beach Boys cover)
9.Frosty The Snowman
10.(The Best Part Of)Breaking Up
11.Try Some, Buy Some (George Harrison Cover)
12.Say Goodbye to Hollywood (Billy Joel Cover)
13.She Talks To Rainbows (Ramones Cover)
14.You Can’t Put Your Arms Round a Memory (Johnny Thunders Cover)
15.Girl From The Ghetto

Mini- Concert Set List
1. Baby I Love You
2. Be My Baby
3. I Can Hear Music

To read more from Frank Grimaldi visit

ALL HANDS ON DECK! Preparing for the 2012 Fall Crush

As August draws to a close here at City Winery, word is arriving that our fall crop is going to be extraordinary this year. The growing season in California has been nearly ideal so we are expecting to have our fermenters filled to capacity in the next few weeks. Crushing up to one hundred tons of grapes takes a lot of blood, sweat and tears so we reach out to many of our staff, members and friends to pitch in. In other words: ALL HANDS ON DECK!

The work itself is quite exhilarating for those who appreciate the art of winemaking. Seeing the freshly picked grapes as they arrive opens a new window into the enjoyment of wine. Suddenly you make a direct connection between these luscious, aromatic fruit and the flavors that make wine such a distinct and delightful experience. Tasting a Pinot Noir grape and comparing that to a fresh Cabernet Sauvignon grape immediately reveals the source of their differences. The Pinot Noir’s bracing acidity and crispness contrasts with the thicker-skinned Cabernet Sauvignon grape that is rich and chewy.

But the real miracle is to witness the transformation from juice to wine. The combination of crushed grapes and juice, known as the must, begins it’s metamorphosis as a beautifully sweet and intensely flavored mixture. As the yeasts begin their work, the sugars are replaced with a complex variety of compounds that add a wide range of new tastes and aromas. Gradually the must becomes more wine-like over the roughly two-week fermentation process. During this period, the must is tasted and analyzed twice a day in our lab. Adjustments are made in order to insure the best possible outcome.

The preparations for the crush are moving into high gear. The fermenters need to be thoroughly inspected and cleaned, as do all the conveyors, destemming machine and sorting tables. Pumps, hoses and fittings are being put in order for managing the must. New barrels are being acquired and must be tested for leaks and other imperfections. Existing barrels are undergoing a thorough inspection, then washed and set in racks for receiving new wine. Our basket press will be taken out of storage and similarly prepped. Once a crush begins, there are no timeouts, so everything must be in near perfect working order. In the event of an equipment failure, we review our backup procedures. As they say, “Hope for the best and prepare for the worst” is the order of the day.

The winery is a hub of great activity and anticipation as we strive to improve every aspect of vinification each harvest. David Lecomte, our head winemaker, is never satisfied with just maintaining the status quo, no matter how diligent. We have been upgrading and intensifying our laboratory analyses with new staff and protocols. This will allow David to prevent or more quickly correct any must issues before they cause a wine fault. A week ago we received a new bottling machine that will allow us to substantially increase our capacity. This is important for the harvest because it will free up barrels and rack space as the aged wine can be put into bottles more quickly.

September marks a new beginning for City Winery with its sister facility in Chicago now open and ready for its first harvest. Together we watch the ripening grapes in California, Oregon, Washington and elsewhere with renewed excitement. With our combined knowledge and experience, this fall offers us an opportunity to make the best City Winery vintage yet.